Get A Life, Part 3

This is part two of a three-part series addressing three arguments made in defense of elective abortion.  Read: Part 1, Part 2

Since Roe v Wade arguments in defense of elective abortion have undergone an evolution.  The nature of this evolution has been one of retreat.  Elective abortion was initially defended by appealing to medical ignorance.  It’s just a clump of cells, It’s not human, It’s not alive, We don’t know when life begins — have all been refuted by medical science.  In fact pro-choice advocates have tipped their hand in recognizing this by challenging any attempt to inform the mother what exactly is growing within her womb before she decides to abort it.  A recent Texas law would require:

[A]ny woman who wants an abortion would have to watch their sonogram first, listen as a doctor describes the fetus to her, hear the heartbeat and then wait 24 hours before having the procedure.

But objectors claim the law, “treats women as incompetent, idiotic people who cannot make their own health care decisions. And it also requires doctors to violate their own medical ethics in advising their patients on their healthcare.”  The law merely requires the doctor inform the woman exactly what is in the womb and what an abortion accomplishes.  One has to ask, in what other medical scenario is requiring the doctor to inform the patient considered treating their patients as incompetent and idiotic?  Full disclosure usually expected.  Only with abortion are women expected to make their choice in medical ignorance, in fact — judging by the objections to being informed — it seems like they want women to be required to make it in ignorance.

Now with the advancement of embryology and biology, the appeals cannot be credibly made any longer that elective abortion does not end the life of a human being.  The evolution of abortion advocacy has been forced into philosophy.  “The fertilized egg may in fact be human, and may in fact be alive — but it is not a person.  Only persons, and not mere human beings, have a right to life.  Therefore, because abortion takes the life of a human being, but not a person, abortion is morally permissible.” †

The personhood defense is the last resort of the abortion advocate.  It provides refuge in muddled, fluid, and arbitrary terms.  Advocates for the personhood defense provide lists of qualifications that make a mere human being, a person.  Lists usually include the following:

  • Consciousness — being self-aware, the ability to reflect
  • Ability to act beyond instinct — have motives and goals
  • Temporal projection — the ability to look toward the future (realization that there is a tomorrow or next week)
  • Capability of reactionary emotion — understanding and awareness of love, hope, anger, etc.

The components of the list are inconsequential as far what they are, for many reasons.  Not the least of which is the list is utterly arbitrary.  Everyone has their own list with similarities and differences, and no one has any transcendent authority to impose their list of qualifiers on other people.  They may be useful guidelines for what might be a person, but nothing necessitates the particular traits on anyone’s list.  Conditions for personhood can be included or removed depending on the one making the list, or depending on who you need to fail the test.

It is in this way that the personhood argument begs the question.  It is based on definitional assertions. And it is these definitions that are exactly what is up for debate.  Why these, who says so, and to what degree?  All personhood properties are held in degree.  People have different levels of consciousness, intuition, psychological maturity, etc.  It follows then that since no one holds equal degrees of psychological states/personhood attributes, then not everyone are equal persons — if personhood is as important to rights as it is presented.

The most unfortunate unintended consequence to requiring the qualities as defined for personhood is, more often than not the list would also disqualify newborns and some impaired adults from the right to life.  And differentiation between newborns and impaired adults and a fetus is wholly arbitrary and wreaks of special pleading.  In fact it cannot be done without inconsistency.  Special exceptions are made for people who are sleeping, under anesthesia, or otherwise unconscious.  But any special exception undermines the argument all together. These humans who lack the personhood attributes, don’t meet the qualifications, but are protected.  The exemptions serve to show that the qualities are truly not the qualifier for protection.  Rather, it is some outside standard other than personhood qualities that is being applied in order to protect these people, again with blatant arbitrarity.

But for the sake of argument, let’s agree that the criteria on an arbitrary list is actually meaningful, what does this mean?  We end up valuing the attribute rather than the subject.  Hope and consciousness are deemed more valuable than the one who possesses them, essentially bestowing the values with the rights and protections.  The human is just an elaborate carrier.  It doesn’t sound right, I know.  But if the living human body can be terminated and discarded only until some kind of psychological state is somehow added, it is the psychological state that holds the value.

The truth is the only thing human beings hold equally is their human nature.  They are equal because of the kind of thing they are, not what they can do.  Even a cursory reflection makes this point obvious.  If two or more people are standing in a line, what would you point to in order to show they are equals and may not be killed at will?  Is it their size? Or shape? Or how many limbs they have?  Do we give them a psychological exam before determining if one or any can be killed?  It seems disingenuous to require the immature human being to possess the attributes of a fully mature human being.  No, we understand that regardless of their level of physical or psychological development, they are worthy of not having their life taken at will because of the kind of thing they are.


I actually had someone offer to me this syllogism:

  1. A human fetus is less of a person than a baby pig.
  2. We kill baby pigs for a host of reasons both good and specious.
  3. Therefore it is ok to kill human fetuses.


  1. Wow! Does that person think it is ok to eat human fetuses? I probably shouldn’t have asked that . . .

    Ultrasounds are a great idea. After all, if you were removing a tumor or a parasite, as pro-aborts love to call the unborn, you’d be able to see it before the surgery.

    Ultrasounds are a huge tool for Care Net Pregnancy Center. I often hear stories about women changing their minds about abortions (I think the national stats are something like 2/3 of abortion-minded women who do so) and exclaiming, “That’s my baby!” (Oddly, they never say “that’s my fetus” or “what is that parasite?!”).

  2. The argument may as well be: In order to achieve personhood, one must be issued a Social Security Number.


    This piece absolutely NAILS it.

    Great job!

  3. So, personhood (as they define it) should not be considered prerequisite to attaining the right to live. I agree. Living human being is enough.

    But, they still have the other argument: No woman should be forced to keep another person alive by it feeding on her.

    How would you answer that?

    I think responsibility for having created the situation has to come into play.

    • Very quickly, to that I say that presumes a mother has no inherent responsibility to care for and protect her child over and above a stranger. Parents have responsibilities to their kids that they don’t to other human beings. For example, I can pass any homeless person without being required to care for and feed them. I have no right to do that to my children.

      The child cannot but help use the mother for food and shelter. Its not as though it crawled inside her and could have been nourished and sheltered elsewhere.

      Ultimately it falls to parental responsibility.

  4. “But, they still have the other argument: No woman should be forced to keep another person alive by it feeding on her.”

    Firstly, no one forced the woman to have sex. If you have sex, you have to accept the consequences. Once she is pregnant, she is a mother – it’s just a matter of what stage she is in. Is it really any different than feeding a toddler if you don’t have money? “No one should be forced to keep another person alive by feeding that person.” So let’s all quit feeding toddlers.

  5. Another thing about the personhood argument is that I haven’t seen any other place where life is concerned where personhood is a factor.

    Murder, for example: The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

    Not “a human person”. A “human being”.

    I’ve looked all over. No definition that I can find states that the human must also be a person.

    Even if a fetus is not a person, it fits the criterion “human being”, does it not?

    In Texas, the word is “individual” and in the penal code, “Individual” means a human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.

    Where are they coming up with the personhood thing at all in the first place?

    • C2C

      Like I said, there have been an evolution of defenses for elective abortion. They used to rely on medical ignorance. They no longer have that at their disposal. They must now make philosophical cases.

      But more to the points you keep making. The appeal to laws. There is never a differentiation between a human with certain capabilities and a human. Likewise, there are many states with fetal protections. Where if a pregnant woman is murdered and her baby dies, the killer is charged with two murders. It seems that the real criteria is “wanted”. Since it is dependent on whether the mother wants the child determines a murder. But that doesn’t make any sense to me. Anything I do or dont do, think or dont think, want or dont want has nothing to do with what you or anyone else is. Really, if it is ok to kill the child in the womb because it is unwanted, why cant you kill it after it is out of the womb because it is unwanted.

      The pro-choice position is the most inconsistent view I have ever encountered, aside from religious pluralism.

  6. Yep. Person/human is an artificial distinction. If there is so much fluidity in determining when personhood begins that should be a tip-off that it isn’t a good arbiter of when it is acceptable to kill human beings.

    Ironically, the “Human Rights Campaign” is pro-abortion (and pro-LGBTQ, etc.). What could be a more fundamental human right than the right not to be destroyed just because you are unwanted?

  7. John,
    Well, there is the problem of various animal rights crazies who want to give “personhood” to particular animals!

  8. NOTE: This comment has been edited by the blog author. The portion removed is a detailed version of the syllogism mentioned in the footer of this commentary and will be made into its own post because, 1) its length, and 2) its detail and thoroughness makes it deserving to stand on its own for examination, in a more conducive arena for criticism or concurrance.

    Hello all, I am the person who offered this fellow the syllogism he speaks of, though he gave a slight misrepresentation (which does not make it unsound it but makes the argument slightly weaker).

    To address some of the comments; for the most part I don’t think any of you understood this argument though maybe this fellow just didn’t put it correctly. I hope if you read my version of the argument it will receive better answers.

    Neil; I assume “that person” you speak of is me. Yes I would be fine with someone eating a human fetus, given the fetus is dead or younger than two trimesters old.
    Concervative2cents; you have entirely misunderstood the argument, even the weaker and less detailed version that this fellow gave. Maybe consider mine. Also I don’t care what states would use such a legal definition for murder, it’s rather irrelevant.

    Glen; Stories, tv shows, movies, etc. I realize that aside from humans we don’t have many other strong examples of a nonhuman person (unless you’re one of those people who believes in God and spirits and such), but regardless it’s possible to conceive of nonhuman persons. We do so every time we read Bambi, or watch Starwars. Also I’m sure you would be quite upset if someone came along and tortured your pet dog or cat to death, why is this? Because you believe they have an inherent moral worth maybe? Or would you hold to some moral relativistic position saying “sure it’s not objectively evil to torture my cat to death, but still I don’t like it”. Frankly I’d be objective about such things.

    To John, I think your critique though somewhat missing the mark did provide a good challenge to my argument in that there is the case of an object (the unconscious human) which we both agree possesses rights and yet can’t be said to possess most of the personlike qualities. I could possibly say that the unconscious human is less of a person than the conscious human, though still enough of a person to retain rights (like I would give a new born rights, despite it not being very high on the personhood scale).

    Like I said before I realize that there is no clear distinction between a person and a nonperseon, so just to be on the safe side I would give something which might possess the right qualities the benefit of the doubt and not kill it. This is why I cut the age of abortion off at two trimesters old. After that age the fetus, though maybe not using it, gains the physical ability to feel pain and emotions, agency and has a some what working brain. Maybe it’s not yet sentient or intelligent, or has any comprehension of reality or morality; but I would stay on the safe side and advocate the protection of its life.

    • Lance

      This post was not in response to your syllogism. It was a refutation of personhood defenses in general. I merely mentioned yours because I found it to be ridiculous. To be fair it was offered in a chatroom which is not an environment very charitable to making thorough arguments. But it is what you had said.

      You objecting to the list I offered only serves to illuminate my point. That the items on the list are fluid, arbitrary, and can change depending on the particular needs. And that is a big reason the personhood defenses are so fatally flawed.

      Also, I clipped out your thorough version of my rendering and I am making it its own post. You obviously put a lot of thought and time into it and it deserves more attention than it will get in the comment section here. I hope you arent too mad about that. But it will be wholly unedited and posted ver batum.

  9. Lance,

    Your examples of “non-human persons” are still not persons. Entertainment industry cartoons and characters are still not persons. We can anthropomorphize animals and things as a way of using them to tell stories, but that still does not make them persons. My cats are not persons, but they are God’s creations, and we are to properly treat them as such.

  10. John Barron: It’s alright, I don’t mind.
    Glen E Chatfield; so what is a person? Are you telling me that you would not consider a species of aliens who were just like us personally, but very different biologically, to have moral rights?

  11. I really don’t know how a thing that is not a human can be a person. I do think there are animals and other fictional characters that we think parallel human-like mannerisms, but I think that “personhood” is projected onto them, not displayed by them.

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